Advent Candles - Peace (Read by children)
Cong sings: O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home. The captives from their prison free, and conquer death’s deep misery.
R1: God of Love, you created the universe and all that is in it.
R2: You created all things and called them good.
R1: You weave together this wide variety of life.
R2: All creatures that walk, swim, crawl or fly sing praises to you.
R1: People, affirm all God has created in love with the psalmist:
Cong: God will soon save those who respect him. Love and truth will belong to God’s people. Goodness and peace will be theirs. (Psalm 85:9-10, ICB)
R1: We light the candle of hope. We light the candle of peace. The God of Creation calls us home to love all that we meet.
Cong sings: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Message “Home is Where We Meet” Psalm 85
Note: Bible verses that are not italicized were displayed but not read, and are placed for ease of reference during the flow of the sermon. Bible verses read within the sermon are italicized paragraphs.
When we think of the old traditional Christmas, we might imagine a snow globe with gently falling snow outside, the extended family gathered around a warm fireplace, and at a safe distance, the tree in all its décor lighting the room. A big meal, lots of laughter and love and deep, but positive conversation. It is a script -- of classic Hollywood, where the reality that interrupts such scenes are cut out on the editing room floor.
The reality for some, if not many of us – is that the preparations are exhausting, family lives at longer distances, and work schedules that push deeper into the week-ends. There are blended families, or individuals that don’t understand how to follow our idealized script for the day; and interrupt our season with stresses – and we have no editing room floor to eliminate these challenges from the script. As I just heard a TV detective describe to his family’s disappointment with each other to a friend, he concludes, “There in a nutshell, is many an uncomfortable family dinner”. (Death in Paradise: “The Man with the Golden Gun” S3E7). For him, maybe for some of us, certainly for many in the world – circumstances make meeting “home for the holidays” something more of a dread than a dream.
Last week we learned that Advent is the season when we refocus our faith on what is truly important. We get back on track by realigning or fine-tuning our priorities with God’s priorities for us. This is what the Psalmist is trying to do today. They were going through some sort of trouble which is left unnamed – perhaps intentionally, making the song valid for all the various valleys that occur in the ups and downs of a nation’s life.
You showed favor to your land, O Lord. You restored [your people]. You removed the
guilt of your people. You covered all their sin. (Psalm 85:1-2 (EHV))
He reminds them that they’ve been there before, and from their history they know that when they turned back to the Lord, the Lord shows how much he loves them and restores their fortunes by forgiving their sins. With that knowledge, the Psalmist leads the people to ask God to save and restore them again from their current situation.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation, revive us again, so that your people may
rejoice in you (Psalm 85:4a,6b) (NRSV)
This is a prayer of desperation. As Karl Barth put it, "To be saved does not mean to be a little encouraged, [or] a little relieved. It means to be pulled out like a log from a burning fire." It has to do with rescue – and the deeper the desperation, the needier the dependence, the higher the relief and joy when God revives our lives.
And then the song, recalling God’s past actions, praying for God’s present actions; he goes on to sing about what God is most certainly about to do…
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps. Psalm 85:8-13 (NRSV)
In essence, what we discover as we turn to God is the character of God: Steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, peace and goodness, intertwined and mutually supportive. Together they also make up the ideal conditions for living with others. You can’t have peace when things are not right. You can’t have steadfast love and unfaithfulness at the same time.
But even as we try to approach all these things, life won’t necessarily become perfect or easy. Because we don’t always get it right, and we cannot script the lives of others and their choices. We will not always fully experience this peace this side of the Lord’s coming. But that doesn’t mean it is not worth the journey toward it, any more than the anxiety of preparation for or sometimes the stress of family gatherings should make us too easily give up on meeting together. For it is by God’s grace that in the journey toward him and his traits, taken into our hearts and lived out in our world, that we begin to discover his salvation from the fires of our life, even while we endure its heat.
For as we turn and reach out to God, we will discover that God has already been giving himself to us and entering more deeply into our lives. This is seen most clearly in God’s giving of himself to us in Jesus at Christmas. He offered himself even before we knew the news, even before we turned toward him. But as we listen, we hear him speaking peace to us who faithfully and consistently open our hearts to him.
And what we also discover is that -- as struggle-y and distant or as great and close as our blood relatives and traditions may be; home is wherever our lives intersect with the lives of others and with our Lord. Home is the assurance that God sent his Son to a manger, and then to a cross to prove his love for us. Home is knowing that we are saved by his grace.
Home is where we meet God and people and feel welcomed and welcome others in love and faithfulness, in right relationships and peace, and we welcome each other in the name of Christ.
Let’s pray. God of these holy days, you stretch us beyond our imagination. You have chosen to connect to us and to your world better than we can comprehend. Your glory radiates across the heavens, yet you chose to focus it in baby Jesus, through whom you invite us to yourself, and a life that journeys toward the joy of love, peace, faithfulness, righteousness, and goodness. Thank you because your forgiveness sustains us, your grace renews us, and your daily presence gives meaning and purpose to the restoration our lives as we find you once again showing favor to your people. Amen.
Know without a doubt that the great mystery of our faith is confirmed by the Spirit, seen by angels, and announced to the nations, believed in throughout the world: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who makes his home around - with - and in -- all who will welcome him.